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Relegation Could Be Confirmed as Blues Host Birmingham
Friday, 12th Apr 2019 13:34

Town host Birmingham City needing to win to stand any chance of delaying relegation to the third tier for the first time in 62 years for another week.

While the drop into League One has seemed inevitable for some weeks, if not months, Saturday could well be the day when the Blues’ 17-year stay in the Championship comes to an end. They were last in the third tier - then the Third Division South - in 1956/57.

Town, 14 points from safety with only five to play, have to beat the Midlanders in order to put off the inevitable until Good Friday when they face Preston at Deepdale, but even then they require results elsewhere to go in their favour.

If they pick up all three points against Birmingham, the Blues will finally be mathematically confirmed in League One if all three of Wigan, Reading and Millwall win.

The Royals host Brentford and Millwall are at Sheffield United on Saturday, while Wigan play Norwich at home on Sunday.

Manager Paul Lambert, speaking after Wednesday’s 2-0 defeat at Brentford, says the Blues’ demotion isn’t down to recent results but goes back to the start of the campaign.

“It’s not this game that’s put us in the position, it’s August, it’s away from August,” he said.

“If the club was doing great in August I’d be absolutely delighted because wouldn’t be here and the club would be in a great place and it would be going well because these fans deserve the club to be better than what it is.

“The support is unrivalled, it’s unrivalled the support in the position that we’re in and I wish Ipswich were doing brilliant from August.

“It’s not this game, it’s not last week, it’s not three games ago, it’s not 10 games ago, it’s when you come back in July, that’s when your season starts, not November, December, it starts in July your season, and that’s what’s cost us.”

Despite the inevitability of relegation, Lambert wants to finish the season in a positive manner rather than with a whimper.

“We try everything we can,” he said. “We’ll have a great support on Saturday again, it’ll be really good, we might get one or two back.

“As I said before, we’ve played some really good football for a few months now without getting the breaks and we did really well, and as I said before, they’ll be better for it.

“If you said to me that maybe three or four of those draws were wins and that’s the worst we’ve played for 45 minutes, I’d have taken it. I’d have taken it if I’d had the wins before.

“But the performances have matched incredible high levels without getting the rewards, so 45 minutes out of those months, you can take it.”

The Blues drew 2-2 at Birmingham in September prior to Lambert taking over following Paul Hurst’s disastrous spell as boss, but it was a result typical of the season with Town 2-0 in front at half-time before letting the three points slip after the break.

“I don’t know many draws I’ve had, but there have been too many draws, far too many,” the current Blues boss reflected.

“But, as I said before, [that can happen when] you lose a lot of goals out of your team, you lose 45 goals out of your team with the three lads [David McGoldrick, Martyn Waghorn and Joe Garner] that left the club.

“Forty-five goals is incredible! It’s incredible to lose that number of goals. The club has a transition and goes another way, loses managers, turnover is high, young players are coming on, so, as I said before, the club has got to have a structure on which it’s got to build, but the great thing about it is that it’s got a great support.”

Lambert is likely to make changes to his team with the Blues playing their third game in eight days and with one or two players who were unavailable at Brentford in line to return.

“Depending on who’s fit at the training ground,” Lambert said. “One or two, we’ll see how they are on Saturday.

“As I said, three games in a week is a lot. A lot of lads have not played for a number of [weeks], so I’ll see how we are.”

Regarding the players who missed out at Brentford, he added: “Skusey had a bit of fluid in his knee from Saturday. It was getting better, hopefully he’s OK for Saturday.

“Gwion Edwards, I don’t know, maybe, it’s his groin. Jon Nolan, maybe. Will Keane maybe. James Collins maybe. It’s all maybes at the moment with the guys. We’ll see how they are.”

Nolan has been out with an achilles injury, Keane is still on the way back from his hamstring problem and Collins played his first game following his calf strain at Bolton last weekend but was rested on Wednesday.

Bartosz Bialkowski will continue in goal, while Josh Emmanuel could return at right-back having been rested on Wednesday. Myles Kenlock will again be at left-back.

Skipper Luke Chambers will be partnered by either Toto Nsiala or Collins at the centre of the defence.

In midfield, Skuse could return in the deeper role with Nolan perhaps also back in the side. Flynn Downes and Trevoh Chalobah would appear more likely to be in the XI than Andre Dozzell and Teddy Bishop, who may drop to the bench having started the last two games.

Collin Quaner again looks set to be the central striker with Keane probably among the subs with Alan Judge set to be on the left and Gwion Edwards on the right if he is over his groin problem.

Birmingham, 17th on 45 points following their nine-point deduction for transgressing Financial Fair Play rules, go into the game having beaten third-placed Leeds 1-0 at home last Saturday and after a 1-1 draw with Sheffield United, who are second, on Wednesday, also at St Andrew’s.

Manager Garry Monk says that given the busy schedule he will gauge his players’ fitness and freshness ahead of the match.

“The squad needs to be ready," he told the Birmingham official site. “It has got to be each game at a time and assess the players, if I feel they have enough energy, freshness and focus to go again.

“I felt that pretty much for Sheffield United after Leeds. I will have a good look at them for this weekend. We have worked extremely hard on conditioning them.

"When you work hard in pre-season, and throughout the season - as well as the tactical and mental approach – then the conditioning is for these months. Knowing that within yourself you have got that capability to push yourself physically.

“This season I have been particularly pleased with the physical output. We have placed a huge demand on the players and they have come through it.

“To do that with a small squad, with niggles, with everything else that has been against us – that adversity we have faced – it’s a testament to the staff but also the players to take it on board.

"That’s why, in these critical moments, they have been able to produce performances like that have done this week.”

Regarding Town, he added: "I've watched their last four or five games, and similar to us when we were on that losing streak, their results don't really reflect their performance levels.

"I think they’ll feel pretty unfortunate that they haven't picked up better results in recent games than they have because they're clearly fighting.

"And I've warned my players already that we have to be ready for that fight again and focus needs to be there and the same mentality that we've shown in the previous two game this week."

He continued: "Ipswich still play good football and they mix it up. Each game is different for us and we have to approach it right.

"We have our game plan and we'll try and execute that in this game, and what we feel that Ipswich might do and not do and what their strengths and weaknesses are. It's about giving ourselves the best opportunity of winning the game."

Midfielder Maikel Kieftenbeld (knee) is the visitors' only injury absentee.

Historically, Town have had the better record in fixtures between the sides, winning 35 times (32 in the league), drawing 17 (17) and losing 30 (24).

At St Andrew’s in September, Paul Hurst continued to wait for his first win as Blues boss after two second-half Lukas Jutkiewicz goals denied Town victory having been two goals in front via Jon Nolan and Matthew Pennington at half-time, the game ending 2-2.

Nolan netted on 26 and Pennington - who was sent off for a second yellow card late on - doubled the lead in the 41st minute as the Blues looked set to claim three points until Jutkiewicz struck on 48 and 68 to dash their hopes.

At Portman Road on the opening day of last season Joe Garner got his Town career off to a goalscoring start by netting a second-half debut goal to see the Blues to a 1-0 victory over the Midlanders.

Garner turned in a Knudsen cross five minutes after the break to win the game, however, the victory was marred by a serious knee ligament injury sustained by Dozzell just before the break.

Blues midfielder Emyr Huws, yet to return from last season's knee injury, had a spell on loan with Birmingham while a Manchester City player during the second half of 2013/14 making 17 starts and scoring two goals.

Tom Adeyemi, still on the way back from the achilles injury he suffered in pre-season, spent the whole of the same season with the Midlanders making 36 starts and four sub appearances, netting three times.

Ex-Blues loanee David Stockdale, currently out of favour at St Andrew’s, made 18 appearances for Town between July and December 2011, while defender Michael Morrison hails from Haverhill.

Town right-back Jordan Spence spent time on trial with Birmingham in November 2016 shortly after his trial with the Blues but before he signed at Portman Road.

Saturday’s referee is Jeremy Simpson from Lancashire, who has shown 145 yellow cards and five red in 36 games this season.

The controversial official’s last Town match was the 2-0 loss at Middlesbrough in December in which he awarded the Teessiders a controversial penalty when Spence was harshly adjudged to have hauled Jordan Hugill to the ground. He also booked Chalobah and Downes as well as one Boro player.

Simpson was also the official in charge of the 2-1 defeat at Sheffield Wednesday in August when he controversially red-carded Blues central defender Nsiala and booked Jonas Knudsen, Ellis Harrison and two Owls.

Before that he refereed the 3-0 home defeat by Hull City in April in which he booked only Bersant Celina.

Prior to that game he had refereed only two Town matches in which he awarded a total of four penalties.

The 1-0 defeat at Rotherham in April 2017 which he gave a seventh-minute spot-kick when Emmanuel bundled over Jon Taylor. Dean Gerken saved Danny Ward’s kick.

Loanee Toumani Diagouraga was the only Blues player booked in that fixture, along with two Rotherham players.

Prior to that he was the man in the middle for the 2-1 defeat at Reading in September 2016 in which he notoriously awarded three penalties which led to the game’s three goals.

Danny Williams won the match with the third and spot-kick deep in second-half injury time, Knudsen having been adjudged to have hauled down Joey van den Berg at a corner.

In first-half injury time Ward had been harshly penalised for handball for the game’s first penalty and Garath McCleary put the Royals in front.

Brett Pitman fired home Town’s - also contentious - spot-kick five minutes after the break for a foul by Tyler Blackett.

Simpson also booked nine players in that game, five Royals and Knudsen, Chambers, Skuse and Christophe Berra.

Squad from: Bialkowski, Gerken, Bree, Emmanuel, Kenlock, Collins, Chambers (c), Knudsen, Nsiala, Skuse, Chalobah, Downes, Nolan, Dozzell, Bishop, El Mizouni, Edwards, Dawkins, Judge, Quaner, Jackson, Keane.

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Bluearmy_81 added 13:48 - Apr 12
There's a new Facebook group, Evans out of ITFC, please, for the love and sake of the club, join.

inghamspur added 13:54 - Apr 12
At the end of the plank now, one more step to go.

cornishnick added 13:54 - Apr 12
Why no pre-match press conference?

ChrisFelix added 13:55 - Apr 12
I'm puzzled as Lambert says the problems at the club date back to August. The home defeats to Bristol, Millwall, Reading, QPR, Sheffield Wednesday & Hull are the reasons we are adrift at the bottom & heading for div 1

positivity added 14:07 - Apr 12
not sure why we're still considering quaner & bree, this should be treated as a pre-season game, looking at next season's players.

same with keane & collins if we're not keeping them

algarvefan added 14:23 - Apr 12
Personally apart from personality I see no difference between Hurst and Lambert. I have often wondered if we had kept going with Hurst, where we would be now? Don't know what others think?
I know Lambert will be our manager next season, but I'm still not convinced he is the man for the job.
Evans has the most to answer for in my opinion.

jong75 added 14:34 - Apr 12
More pr. We have slept walked into league1 ever since lambert has been here. No upturn in results, still playing 1 up front. Chris kamara said on talksport today getting out of the championship is the hardest thing to do in football. We have done it with minimal effort, very little skill and ability. I have no idea why some itfc fans think lambert is the messiah. I hope i am wrong but fear next season will be as bad.

tractorollson added 14:52 - Apr 12
@algarvefan - agree, PL hasnt really done anything more , only won a few games and im not convinced hes the man for job either, ironic that an scum player/manager will seal our fate too. Unless ME invests next season we could be languishing in league one for a while too.

JewellintheTown added 14:54 - Apr 12
@algarvefan - I see where you're coming from but the big difference I think is with what they both inherited and what options they had to both make improvements. Hurst squandered, naively & wildly sold and bought and had a much larger pool of players to chose from in the summer and prepare exactly the way he wanted to, whereas Lambert inherited a massacred squad with little player options during January to support him. Results are similar, yes, but that's very much down to the players & their levels and capabilities & how they can perform. I'd say Lambert is in a different league of experience and management experience to Hurst too. I for one am more entertained under Lambert & feel more optimistic with him in charge. Just my opinion though but understand and respect yours.

positivity added 15:18 - Apr 12
i can see it from both sides, if given time, hurst would have improved and we'd probably find ourselves better off by now (but still could've gone down). if the worst had come to the worst, lambert & hurst both have good records in league one

HOWEVER, even if the only difference is personality; i think it's a big difference, and a vital one. the club needs a revolution in terms of methods and attitude, and lambert is much better placed to bring this in, much more power and authority with evans to tell him where he's going wrong.

there's plenty i don't like about lambert's tactics and team choices, but his positivity is just what we need for a tricky task next year.

blueboy1981 added 15:21 - Apr 12
.......... the sooner, the better.

Let's get this season - GONE.

blueboy1981 added 15:23 - Apr 12
Bluearmy-81 - yet more clap trap from you - but STILL void of any viable alternative suggestion of ownership.

Give it a rest, you're worse than an LP that no one likes.

Dolphinblue added 15:26 - Apr 12
Hmmm.....cannot see it personally as easy win assured. COYB

blueboy1981 added 16:03 - Apr 12
Let's be honest PL - the abject performance against Brentford wouldn't have convinced many that any progress has been made since you arrived.

Jury is out as to if you are the man to turn it around next season, only time will tell - but the pressure will be on you from the off in August, that's for sure.

The proof of the pudding, is in the eating - where's the pudding too date ..... ?? without going any further.

warksonwater added 16:12 - Apr 12
Seems unimportant in the grand scheme of things, but let's just get a win tomorrow so at least we can say we were finally doomed by other teams' results rather than our own. Come on boys, pride at stake here.

MickMillsTash added 16:12 - Apr 12
Lamberts First thing to do was to stop us conceding silly goals - we haven't achieved this
His tactics and ability to change games have not been proven - in fact i'd say so far he's been poor
He is positive but its wearing little thin - but what else can he say ?
BUT before we write him off we need to let him have a pre-season and he needs some cash to spend on at least a striker
- He seems a man of principle I think he will walk if he doesn't get support from Evans

ShropshireBluenago09 added 16:15 - Apr 12
Many people to blame for our demise this season;
ME - little investment and letting goalscorers leave without quality replacements
Hurst - changing too much too soon and relying on league 1 & 2 players
Lambert - bought time by befriending legends, praising the owner and fans, but could be accused of not 'going for it' in vital games, 1 up front, etc.

That aside, injuries have not helped the cause and the strikers Lambert bought in have not hit the ground running as we would have liked.

jas0999 added 16:31 - Apr 12
What a very sorry state of affairs. The demise under the current ownership is remarkable, but for many not a surprise.

bluemike1969 added 16:36 - Apr 12
OK, so we know we are going down Paul so for once, let's just go for it. If we go down 3 or 4 but have just kept playing forward then I for one will be pleased. What I hate is the lack of attacking football and playing 1 up front. Why not play all 10 up front, so to speak, and just damn well enjoy the 90 minutes. The fans will get behind you as they have done since PL arrived. Time to stop back biting and moaning (and that does include me in that) In the words of Eric Idle from Always look on the bright side of life..... 'enjoy it....its your last chance anyhow'

speccybaz added 16:38 - Apr 12
PL has done an amazing PR job and contributed massively to the relatively positive feel given the appalling state of affairs. Only time will tell if he’s the answer though, and in a results driven business, he may not survive. Yes, there are a lot of good youngsters, but they may not be enough. Good teams have a solid spine of goalie, centre back, central midfield and striker. I don’t feel that we really have any of those bases covered at the moment.

dukey44 added 16:59 - Apr 12
Only comment is play 2 up front please, we been down for months now so personally be pleased once it's confirmed.. Just the players look total rubbish yet the manager as he has too praise them. Hopefully he will rip the team apart and start a fresh and start with strikers that can score and defenders that can defend... Here's dreaming

Saxonblue74 added 17:17 - Apr 12
Bluearmy81, Blueboy has already touched on this but please offer up some alternatives. Would it please you to see Evans walk? What do you imagine our situation to be if he did so? We all have opinions when watching our team but running a club is a different matter entirely. It's a minority of fans who made the most noise that have contributed hugely to our plight in my opinion. Facebook page??!! 😂

roystevensonsrocket added 17:22 - Apr 12
What in God’s name does Evans out mean . It’s totally meaningless . Whose going to buy our club now. I’m sure Marcus would be open to selling but that’s impossible at the moment. We need unity now as we need the club to be stabilised yes under Marcus Evans and Paul lambert .call me delusional but I’m really excited by next year . Under PL we will get promoted at first time of asking with our young own players plus judge a striker an experienced defender

Bluearmy_81 added 17:35 - Apr 12
Evans can't just walk!! He needs to be put under some pressure to step up or sell at a loss to someone who can invest in Town sufficiently. As a fan who loves the club just passively sitting by and watching our pitiful demise was no longer an option. I guess some of us have got more fight in them than others...

TimmyH added 18:03 - Apr 12
Personally feel if we kept Hurst we still would have been relegated (not sure if we would still be rock bottom though)...Lambert hasn't improved things has he? maybe morale and some upbeat press conferences and the fact is he's been here longer than Hurst. The problems all stemmed in the summer from recruiting far too many league 1 and 2 inexperienced players at this level and letting go quality that we had, an utterly reckless move so in that regard Evans has to be the main culprit followed closely by Hurst with Lambert picking up bronze on the podium for failing - but lets not forget some if not many of the players on the pitch and some of McCarthy's old guard who simply haven't got their arse in gear (maybe other than Sears).

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